Written by: Sean Summers, National Fireplace Institute (NFI) Master Hearth Certified Technician - WoodStovePro.com
There are many reasons people decide to purchase a wood stove. Everything from saving money to the nostalgia of growing up with a stove can play a role in the decision-making process. More often than not, many consumers are under informed when they begin their search for a wood stove. I hope this article will serve as a guide to help you plan and select the perfect wood stove.
Wood Stove Construction
There are two basic types of wood stoves on the market today: a steel wood stove and a cast iron wood stove. A steel wood stove is built from different gauges of steel that are welded together to create a wood stove. This type of construction is very durable provided that the firebox is designed to withstand many long hours of heat and the steel used in construction is heavy and of good quality. A cast iron wood stove is made by individually casting parts and then assembling them with gaskets to create a wood stove. A cast iron wood stove will eventually need rebuilt when the gaskets finally wear out, but they often make up for this failing by being more attractive than the average steel wood stove. One exception is the Napoleon cast iron wood stoves (1100C, 1400C), which are really steel wood stoves with cast iron parts bolted to the outside making them appear to be cast iron wood stoves. It has the beauty of cast iron without the drawback of being sealed with gaskets.
During the 1980s the EPA began regulating wood stoves in an effort to reduce pollution and improve air quality. These regulations forced many manufacturers to invent ways to burn wood fuel much more efficiently. The first wood stoves after the regulations went into effect were built with catalytic combustors that allowed the unburned smoke to combust at lower temperatures inside the wood stove. Catalytic combustors are problematic because efficiency steadily drops over the not-so-long life span and need to be replaced. Wood stoves are still being built today with this technology. The next generation of wood stoves was built to inject super heated air into the unburned smoke and allow it to combust at higher temperatures. This is accomplished in various ways by each manufacturer, but the technology allows wood stoves to maintain efficiency over their lifetime without regular part replacement. Some manufacturers have chosen to keep their wood stoves rated under different categories such as coal which allows them to avoid EPA certification. An educated consumer should be careful to choose EPA-rated wood stoves because the long term cost savings on fuel can be significant.
Sizing Your Wood Stove
As an experienced hearth professional, I can’t stress enough the importance of sizing your wood stove properly. Too small a wood stove and your space is chilly in the dead of winter; too big of wood stove and you’ll have to open the windows to keep from sweating. The wood stove’s physical size is important but should never be determined by the size of the wood you already have cut and ready to use. Understandably, having a wood stove that can burn those 24-inch logs you cut would be nice, but the drawback of having a stove that can’t be understated. The new generation of wood stove will use considerably less fuel and produce much more heat than older wood stoves. British Thermal Unit, or BTU, is the crucial factor in determining the correct wood stove for your situation. Most manufacturers rate their stoves in both BTU and square footage, but be aware that the square footage number is all but useless. The manufacturer can’t know your climate, windows or insulation, which allows them to judge how many square feet a wood stove can heat. This is why you will see a wide swing such as 500 to 2500 square feet on their brochure. Two thousand square feet is a rather large variance. BTU should always be used to determine the proper sizing of a wood stove. A BTU calculator is a very useful tool to determine the correct size for your situation. Log size and burn times are also factors you should consider but only after you have determined the proper BTU.
Class A Solid Fuel Chimney
Whether you are searching for a wood stove insert or a freestanding wood stove, you’ll need to make sure you have a safe chimney in which to vent your wood stove. Always be sure to have your existing chimney swept and inspected before it is put into service, even if you are going to be relining it. Due to the efficiency of modern wood stoves, old masonry fireplaces will require that you line the chimney with the same size pipe as the collar on the wood stove insert. Failure to do this correctly can cause improper drafting, chimney fires and almost certainly a very dissatisfied user. A free standing wood stove will need a chimney to connect to so be aware that you’ll have to purchase and install a properly designed Class A solid fuel chimney system. A NFI Certified professional should be consulted to help you design a chimney system for your home. Dynamite Buys offers this service free-of-charge and we have designed hundreds of systems. Be aware that the cost of pipe can be considerable and will need to be factored into your budget. A new chimney system can easily cost 50 to 100% of the purchase price of the stove.
Locating your Wood Stove
Think of your wood stove as real estate: location, location, location. Locating your wood stove properly can be the difference between a very warm and cozy home and a very dissatisfied consumer. Some houses will limit your choices and force you into finding creative ways of moving heat around your home. If you have the flexibility, try to place your wood stove where it would be centrally located and will allow the heat to move into different areas of the home easily. If not, then develop a strategy to move the heat to different areas of the home such as ceiling fans or turning on the blower of your forced air furnace. If you are installing a new chimney system, keep in mind location so you can minimize chimney offsets and added expense. Also be certain that there is enough room in the space you have chosen to meet the clearance-to-combustibles requirements. Each stove is different in design and requirements and sometimes this can change the placement of the wood stove. A NFI certified professional can help you with this process and be a valuable asset in helping you locate your new wood stove.
While searching for your wood stove, you don’t forget the aesthetic value of the wood stove you are considering. A wood stove becomes a focal point of a room. Your guests will be drawn to it and even you will find watching the slow dancing flames mesmerizing. So don’t underestimate the importance of how the wood stove looks. This is a purchase you will have for many years and you should find a wood stove that you enjoy looking each and every day.
A few things to consider before you complete the purchase of your wood stove. Always check with your insurance company and local authorities before planning your installation. Some insurance companies are very averse to insuring wood burning appliances. You may have to go as far as switching insurance companies, so talk with them about your plans. Also, many local governments have strict rules on installation of wood stoves, so always check with them before you finalize your purchase.
Don’t forget that wood stoves burn wood. This may sound obvious but make sure you have a readily available source of fuel. Good dry cord wood is the key to success. In our experience the most common reason customers are dissatisfied with their wood stove is that their wood is too high in moisture causing major losses in efficiency and heat output. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a place to store wood or purchase wood at a reasonable price, then a wood stove may not be for you. Also there is a fair amount of physical effort and time in the use of a wood stove. Don’t undervalue your time and the labor involved.
The last thing to consider is added expenses. Your NFI certified technician can help you identify these expenses during the search process. Things such as hearth pads, wall protection, installation costs and yearly cleaning should factor into your decision.
WoodStovePro.com is not only NFI certified but we are also Master Hearth Certified making us true professionals. We look forward to finding the perfect wood stove for your home.